Sightseeing in Nevis can be particularly rewarding; you will enjoy it best if you take your time and get some background idea of the places you are visiting and their significance. Starting from Charlestown and working outwards, various spots are taken in turn so you can get the feel of what Nevis has to offer in this department.
There is plenty of history in Nevis and many of the buildings dotted about have lengthy and colourful stories. The Cotton Ginnery Complex (shown left) is located in Charlestown near the water’s edge. It is now a small shopping centre keeping the traditional, colonial architecture where you can stop off to buy local souvenirs, local artwork, visit the art gallery or settle down for a quick bite to eat in the restaurant near the waterfall by the lush garden. As you do this it is worth casting your mind back to the time when farmers would bring their cotton here to sell it. It would then be ginned, baled and be made ready for shipment to Japan.
The Nevis Courthouse and Public Library (shown right) stands in the middle of town. It was built in 1825 and features large, white shutters. The shutters on the top floor are always flung open (except when it’s pouring with rain). The ground floor shutters are often used to post notices. The building is open to the public, so feel free to have a look around inside.
On the northern fringe of Charlestown lie two important historical buildings one of which you should explore and the other you hopefully won’t have to see the inside of. The first is steeped in historical significance, and is a real eye-opener for the historical buffs among you. It is the Museum of Nevis History and the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton – a famous figure in The American Revolution (George Washington’s right hand man, no less) and later in the machinations of late 18th Century American politics. The museum itself covers the man and this period in significant detail as well as providing exhibitions featuring the history of the island, its politics, Jewish Government, indigenous people, culture, customs, cooking, homekeeping as well as the island’s geology. The other building nearby is the site of the Old Bath Hotel that was built in 1778 for 18th Century visitors seeking cures in the hot mineral springs. Originally, it was found that the springs had surprisingly good curative powers for gunpowder burns and rashes! It is now the temporary headquarters for the police in Nevis and, all being well, you should have no cause to visit the inside.The Spring House is closed now, but a peek at the stream behind it confirms the warm sulphur waters still flowing.
At Belle Vue, next to Government House just south of Charlestown is The Horatio Nelson Museum exhibiting the largest collection of Nelson memorabilia in the New World. It documents Nevis at the time of Nelson and his marriage to local lady Fanny Nisbett and sets the scene with background information and an excellent display of of artifacts from the period featuring prints, porcelain, glass, ship models and enamels forming one of the region’s best decorative art collections. Further down the road you will pass Fig Tree Church. Inside you will find the original entry in the register of the historic marriage between Captain Nelson and Ms. Nisbett dated March 11th, 1787. Historians usually become light-headed at this point, coming face to face with this personal chapter in the life of so great a man in such a seemingly unlikely spot. Nice church too.
Go East, young Man…
Further east lies Montpelier Plantation where Nelson actually got married. All that remains of the original plantation are the estate’s entrance pillars. However, a pleasant and understated cottage-style inn lies on the same spot, very much preserving the ambience of the area. A spirited stone’s throw away (please do not attempt this feat, as you may put one through the greenhouse) are The Botanical Gardens of Nevis, a rare treat. Thoughtfully designed and maintained the gardens feature incredible displays and collections of palms, orchids, cacti, flowering trees and shrubs displayed in a series of themes including even a miniature Mayan temple. If your feet need a temporary rest there’s a West Indian Tea House. There is also a gift shop.
For those of you who would really like to stretch their legs and get out and about, the Nevis Conservation Society arranges guided walks around the “Upper Round Road”; it was built in the 1600′s to connect up all the plantations and was used for transporting rum, molasses and sugar. There’s plenty of history and scenery on this walk and is recommended if this kind of thing appeals to you.
The Inns of Nevis
Many of the Inns of Nevis are on former plantations and in themselves are worth stopping by to appreciate their truly wonderful settings and the original buildings that still remain. As a group, the charm of the Inns of Nevis have no equal. They are very special indeed and have, understandably, become the quiet and peaceful getaways from the hustle and bustle for those fortunate enough to find out about them. Some of the plantations though dating back to previous centuries became disused and fell into a state of disrepair and have become historical points of interest, many parts of their original brickwork still remaining. Photo opportunities are good – a little background knowledge helps too. Hamilton Estate can be found just north of Government Road. Of note is the volcanic stone windmill tower and the 19th Century steam engine. The estate fell out of use in the early 1950′s. New River Estate, some way to the east down by Hugging Bay, was the last operating sugar mill in Nevis. The massive machinery stands silent, the tall chimney, the ruined great house, the sugar boiling wall and the colonnade all still stand. Coconut Walk Estate lies down by the sea in the same general area and of note is its beautifully symmetrical windmill tower, fashioned by early free and slave craftsmen from Nevis. Built by the Hugging family, it is arguably the best example of its kind in Nevis. The Lime Kiln, right down by the shore, has been burning coral washed up on nearby beaches in order to make lime mortar used in the construction of many of the stone buildings in Nevis for the last 200 years. It has withstood the elements and the odd earthquake.
In the South of the island lies Saddle Hill, rising to 1250 feet (415m). Upon it was built the Saddle Hill Battery, a large, impressive fortification built in around 1740 by slave labour. One of the three peaks on the hill is known as Nelson’s Lookout because when he wasn’t busy unleashing volleys of cannonballs at french ships he would admire the spectacular vista from here of St. Kitts and St. Eustatius off to the North, Montserrat and Redondo to the South and Antigua to the East. Today you can do the same, aided by a trail punctuated with interpretive markers informing you of the history and strategic importance of the battery.
Nevis is the quiet sister island in the twin-island state of St. Kitts-Nevis, yet the serenity that pervades the island belies an interesting and colourful past. Sightseeing in Nevis involves rediscovering this past and, as is often not the case in more developed islands, is a thoroughly relaxing and rewarding experience.